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Is routine good for you?

Penalty ticket - when routine goes wrong

Natalie was in a fantastic mood. She woke up early morning and was doing her stretch routine. She ate a small breakfast and drove to the registration point. It was her dream. She had been preparing for this competition for a long time. She dreamed to be a professional rock climber. And here she was. She completed all admin routine and stood in front of the high hill where competition took place. Next, she went through her checklist for the last time, breathed deeply fresh air and started climbing. She didn’t know, she wasn’t going to finish this wall and in fact she would need to stop her career as a professional climber.

Chasing dreams

Natalie was pushing hard. Everything was going well. The weather was perfect. She was prepared. She designed and implemented a perfect routine. And now it all was paying off.
Around one-third of the path she felt sharp pain in the shoulder. She stopped for a moment but only to catch the breath. She stretched for a moment and decided to carry on. In the end, she was secured by the rope, so it was relatively safe to push on her limits. Unfortunately the pain was not going away. In fact it was even more annoying with the time. As a result, she was putting more stress on the good arm. It was not long after when she miscalculated distance and strength left in her arms. She didn’t manage to hold the cold rock and slipped from the wall. She was expecting sharp lurch from the safety rope, but it wasn’t coming. Something was wrong.

When something goes wrong

She woke up in a hospital. She was in bad shape. Doctors were sharing news in small doses. She would need to stop her career as a professional climber. She would be lucky if she was going to walk. Long and painful rehab routine was ahead of her. However, for now, to keep her mind busy, she was analysing what went wrong. Why safety rope did not work. After some time of retrospective analytics, and a bit of help from her friends, she concluded what had happened.


Her routine was good, it normally worked just fine. With one exception, it didn’t assume tying her shoelaces before checking and tying safety ropes. During that ill-fated morning, she needed to do her shoelaces. It was enough for her brain to tick it as the next point of her checklist, she went through to next one. As a result, she went to her first serious competition with confidence, pushing hard to her limits, but in fact missing the most important component of her safety. When things went bad with her shoulder, she fall down and only by miracle she was alive.

She recovered and was able to climb again, but this is topic for another coffee journey. Today I focus on routine that is, in general, a positive thing, but can actually go wrong if you don’t have any safety mechanisms. I have also some very recent story that happen to me. It was not even virtually close to what happened to Natalie, but the mechanism was the same.


I am blessed to be able to work remotely and collaborate with awesome teams. We all work remotely and we are distributed on three continents, five time zones and seven countries. To be able to work with all of my colleagues I need to shift my working time. In general, I start later during my day and finish later too. I spent some time trying to design my daily routine. In fact, this is still an ongoing task, but I can say I have a pretty solid foundation of how my day is structured. Without too many details, I cover the morning routine with my kids, my wife covers evening routine. In the mornings when all small troopers are distributed to schools and nurseries – we still have some time for our coffee together. Usually it takes about 45 minutes to enjoy quality time together, catch up on stuff, plan our new journeys and so on. Later I start my workday, already filled in with positive energy thanks to this precious time in the morning.

Expensive coffee journey

Family routine
Family routine

It is my usual routine, however, during Christmas break, we obviously had more time, no commitments during the day, so that we took all the family for our coffee journey. We parked in the usual place and enjoyed our treats. When I came back to my car, there was an unpleasant surprise. Traffic ticket was waiting for me. It didn’t take a long time to figure out that the parking space was allowed to park a car for one hour only. While normally it is plenty of time for our usual catch-ups, on these relaxing days, with kids, it took us more than two hours of talking, othering more babyccinos and fantastic bakery treats. The most important part was to own the situation, do not moan, and making sure it will not destroy the mood that we were trying to build so hard.

Routine – good or dangerous thing?

A lot of people write and talk about the power of habits and routines. There are a lot of fantastic blog posts on that topic especially now, around the beginning of the new year. I am a great fan of creating, maintaining and review set of good habits. They help us to automate a lot of things, and, when set correctly, help with achieving our goals. I would like to take a look at this topic from a different perspective. Let’s start with a bit of theory about how our brain function. In a nutshell, we have in fact three brains, although some days I am questioning if I have even one πŸ™‚

Routines and habits help us to automate a lot of things, and, when set correctly, help with achieving our goals. Click To Tweet

The limbic system

  • tracks your emotional relationship to people, objects, events and thoughts
  • determines how you feel about the world, from moment to moment
  • it is a world of subtle choices
  • it is determined to minimise danger and maximise reward

Prefrontal cortex

  • it is responsible for all our rational thinking
  • main functions:
  • memorising
  • recalling
  • understanding
  • deciding
  • inhibiting

Basal ganglia

  • recognise, store and repeat patterns
  • “if this then that” functions
  • pick up patterns even without conscious awareness
It is good to perform a "routine inventory" every so often, get rid of bad habits, or routines that don't serve you any more and make sure you switch them to more useful, targeted to your new goals. Click To Tweet

Amount of input information that our brain needs to process these days is amazing. And to employ logic to all of them is virtually impossible, this is why our brain is trying to help us by simplifying them, categorise them and automate as much as possible. This is great power and it normally works well. It is important to be aware of this system and help to develop habits and routines that will serve you. This is because we all have our routines even if we don’t know about them. It is also good to perform kind of “routine inventory” every so often, get rid of bad habits, or routines that don’t serve you any more and make sure you switch them to more useful, targeted to your new goals. This could be done during your annual review. I recommend to read this step by step guide by Michael ŚliwiΕ„ski. And one more recommendation, this time about creating healthy habits “Practical time management” course by Piotr Nabielec.

Lesson learned during this coffee journey

  • Habit and routines are good and are our friends, however we need to review them, pay attention if they still serve us,
  • We have three parts of our brain inherited after our pre-pre assessors, each responsible for different functions, it is good to be aware of them, take attention, be more self-aware of our actions,
  • It is good to have some extra safety mechanisms to double-check on things that are crucial to hour heath, self-being etc, “two is one, one is none”,

We finished that day by recreating some of my old habits. We sang carols and I was playing guitar. Last time I played was actually a few years ago. It is nice to see that old habits are still serving us.
I wonder what is your view on habits and routines. Do you review them on a regular bases? Do you want to create a new habit this year?

1 thought on “Is routine good for you?”

  1. I loved the part about habits/routines and the neuro side of things. I always say “I’m a creature of habit” but sometimes that works against me. It can prevent me from taking risks and learning from mistakes so this is a great reminder to find balance in your routine: Leverage your routine to help you do what you need to do, not let your routine tell you what needs to be done.

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